Bonnie Rachael is approaching her latest endeavor in her typical manner — with a leap of faith.
Rachael, the founder and CEO of Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center, shared her vision for the facility’s future at an open house Saturday.
FETC more than doubled its property recently by purchasing five acres of adjoining land. Plans include building a covered arena, so classes won’t be cancelled by bad weather, and extending the center’s sidewalk, which will be particularly beneficial to people traversing the center’s grounds in a wheelchair.
“As usual, I’m out there on faith,” Rachael said, “believing that somebody will come along and help us with it and we’ll build the things we need to build to take care of more people.”
Another goal is to expand the blacksmith shop, which a church group visiting from Ohio built in two days in June. The shop, which will give wounded military veterans a place to make iron art and enjoy the outdoors, eventually will be home to leather working, ceramics and basket weaving programs.
Faith Equestrian opened in 2006, providing equine-assisted riding and educational activity programs for children and adults with special needs. It currently serves about 60 people, according to Rachael.
“Ultimately, our 10-year goal is to be able to take care of 300 people,” she said. “We can do that if everybody will just take one little part and do it.”
That could mean donating building materials, labor or money, Rachael said. The covered arena will require an estimated $75,000 in materials and labor, and the sidewalk extension and its accompanying pond project will cost about $25,000.
Saturday’s program began with a ribbon cutting to welcome Faith Equestrian as a new member of the Effingham County Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s something the county can be proud of,” Chamber Executive Director Rick Lott said of the center. “I’ve watched the growth, I’ve watched Bonnie and her crew just work tirelessly to make this what it is now, and then to see the vision for the future, too.”
The ribbon cutting was followed by a tribute to military veterans. Father and son Michael Holton Sr. and Jr. teamed up for a horseback drill set to patriotic music, which they originally performed at Special Olympics competitions.
Michael Holton Jr., 20, who was born with Down syndrome, was one of Faith Equestrian’s first students. His father said FETC made a big difference in building Michael’s strength, balance and confidence.
“I can’t use a big enough word. Truthfully, it’s just that big,” he said.
Joining Holton among Faith’s first students was Kristy Tilton, who was born with spina bifida. “Scary” was how she described her first time moving from her wheelchair to the back of one of the horses.
It took a few months to get used to, she said, but she has “loved it ever since.” Tilton, 29, travels from Savannah to FETC on Saturdays that classes are offered.
“This is awesome. This was a complete godsend,” she said. “This is my quiet time, my zone time, my relax time. I love it out here.”